BluRay/DVD Reviews

THAT EVENING SUN

By • Nov 11th, 2010 •

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THAT EVENING SUN is a beautiful and sad film about love, loss, and betrayal. Since it addresses these archetypical human conditions from the point of view of a very senior citizen, this quiet little piece may cause impatience in anyone younger than a Boomer. Still, those who have witnessed the diminution of a beloved relative (and with that, a heightened awareness of one’s own mortality) will be moved by this thoughtful story.

Hal Holbrook stars as Abner Meechum, a Tennessee farmer whose son Paul (Walton Goggins) has consigned him to a nursing home. A very few, well chosen shots reveal the kind of life the facility provides. It’s not horrific, just days and days of useless boredom, surrounded by the meek, the weak, and the shell-shocked. As soon as Abner gets his strength back, he breaks out, headed for home.

But when he gets there, the old homestead ain’t what it used to be; a sultry teen is sunbathing on the lawn. Abner learns that his son has rented the place to local “white trash,” the Choat family. Undeterred, he moves into an ancient sharecropper’s shack on the property, obstinately believing that he will oust the intruders. Ludie Choat (Carrie Preston) and her sunbathing daughter Pamela (Mia Wasikowska) try to keep things on an even keel, but husband Lonzo (Raymond McKinnon) wants Abner gone. There’s a lifetime of bad blood between Choat and Meechum. In their confrontations, the palpable hostility is always just about to tip into violence. When it finally does tip, the story takes a surprising turn.

Both the settings and the relationships in this film feel so specific, so lived-in, and so deeply understood, that it’s surprising to learn that the shoot took only twenty one days. The bonds between the actors are strong, and the interactions feel authentic, whether it’s the gruff/tender exchanges between puppyish Pamela and bemused Abner, or the steely antipathy that ties Abner and Lonzo together. The lush, overgrown fields that surround the farm, the late summer sunlight that rakes the frames, the worn out objects that fill the rooms, even the dirt roads that lead to these humble destinations, seem to be heavy with memories. And then there are the actual flashback scenes, Abner’s remembrances of younger days with his now-dead wife, her face always tantalizingly obscured. The wife is played by Dixie Carter, Hal Holbrook’s wife, who died in April of this year, adding another layer to the patina of memory, love, and loss.

The extras on this disk include a documentary about the making of the film, a podcast that “deconstructs” one scene from the film by looking at it from the point of view of all the artists and technicians who were involved in creating it, and interviews with cast and crew. Since this was a low budget film, many of the people involved wore double or triple hats–producer/writer/actor, writer/director, etc. They’re so deeply engaged in the project that it makes them imminently watchable, and of course, it means they have insightful things to say about it. One of the most unforgettable interviewees, however, is author William Gay, who wrote the short story “I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down,” upon which THAT EVENING SUN is based. There’s just something so haunted and Southern and still, something so simultaneously revealing and hidden, about his persona. I can really imagine this movie beginning in the mind of this guy.

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